Secret Santa strikes again on parkway

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) - November 25, 2008

Last year, someone surreptitiously hung nearly a dozen Christmas ornaments from the boughs of a huge pine tree along the side of the toll road in Little Egg Harbor Township.

Over the weekend, the daring decorator was back at work, leaving a large red and gold ball suspended from a string.

Whoever did it had to work harder this time. Someone cut down the lowest-hanging branches earlier this fall to make it more difficult to leave the ornaments on the tree.

Similar trims were made to a tree on the other side of the road that also got the Secret Santa treatment last year.

But Joseph Orlando, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the Parkway, swears it wasn't an authority worker.

"We do trim things back from time to time, but none of our maintenance workers has any record or recollection of doing anything with these two trees, which are well-known to them," he said.

Just like last year, the decorating started the week before Thanksgiving.

"It's just like when you go into a department store in September, and they've got Christmas stuff up already," Orlando said. "Are we becoming that kind of toll road?"

He said authorities have ruled out one group of people as suspects in the secret Christmas decorating: Whoever has been stealing roadside signs marking milepost 66.6 in roughly the same area. The Bible associates the number 666 with the devil.

"What do you think would happen if the guy or gal decorating the trees ended up running into the people stealing the 66.6 signs?" Orlando mused. "That would be better than most reality TV."

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